Tuesday, December 06, 2011
I remember my first plate of risotto. It was lunch at an Italian restaurant in a hotel back in Kuala Lumpur where I was attending a hackers conference. (Yes, you read that right. In that other aspect of my life, I'm in a total nerd/geek zone.) The rice, like the restaurant I found myself in, was quite memorable. Cooked just to the right doneness and seasoned well enough without overpowering blobs of cheese, that quiet lunch alone many years ago, with a glass of red and some crusty bread, is fresh in my mind till this day. The same can't be said about the following risotto adventures after that.
I order the dish whenever the restaurant we dine in serves it. Vijay would ask me why I'd torture myself and risk being disappointed. While it's true that risotto is labor intensive and requires a lot of attention, I think it's not difficult to get right (despite what shows like Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen and Masterchef make us believe). A good risotto for me would make my day and beat all other fancy menu items offered. Topped with a piece of pan-seared fish, some grilled shrimps or just the classic mélange of mushrooms; flavored with all the goodness of stock; brought to life with just a little spike of citrus, and made completely suggestive with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, it is essentially an Italian nonna's love on a plate.
While I eat this out often enough to bore my other half with my unfortunate disenchantment every time it came just slightly (in a few occasions overly) underdone with that annoying crunchiness caught within the rice grains, I wasn't sure how I would fare should I cook it myself. The chance came when that box of chanterelle mushrooms 'found' its way into my kitchen. By 'found', of course I'm referring to one of those grab-first-and-think-of-what-to-do-with-it-later impulse purchase episodes which attacked me, similar to how I 'found' the yuzu. Since the chanterelle itself was a special splurge, I wanted to make something in which it could be the star instead of playing second fiddle. I didn't have a risotto recipe then but vaguely recalled how Jamie Oliver, under the tutelage of his 'Italian father' Gennaro Contaldo, was taught to cook a pan of mushroom risotto with much gusto. Then of course there's the image of George Calombaris going on about how it's best to use carnaroli rice over arborio for a better result and not be too overzealous with the stirring action, just gently agitating and coaxing the starch out of each grain of rice.
Let me assure you that no rocket science stands between you and your best plate of risotto. All it takes is some patience to get busy around a hot stove. Like conjuring a jar of XO sauce, making a good dry curry or whipping up some lemon curd, it's really just about 30 minutes of off-and-on stirring - I even managed to do the dishes in between each ladle of stock. The key point is to know when to stop cooking - and not stop short. At the 25 minute mark, the rice should look soft, expanded and creamy. Spoon out some to taste and continue with more stock if it's not quite there yet.
I roasted the mushrooms instead of grilling them because I only have two burners on my stove. With one hob to keep a pot of warm stock and the other to cook the rice, it would be impossible to cook the chanterelles on a grill pan. All the sweat and cook time synchronizing feat was worth it, as I watched Vijay wolf down his better-than-normal-vegetarian-Friday-lunch. At last, the discussion was about how awesome the meal was and not how the chef could possibly mess up a plate of rice in what was supposed to be a respectable restaurant. There was a bit of leftover rice on my plate and even that was great reheated in a low oven later in the evening. Like Shirley, I see more risotto nights in the near future, perhaps the next one black with squid ink and baby octopus.
Roasted Mushroom Risotto [Printer Friendly Version]
Recipe adapted barely from Jamie Oliver's Grilled Mushroom Risotto, roasted mushroom adapted from Deb Perelman's Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms.
Notes: I would say Jamie's recipe serves 6 quite comfortably so do scale down the recipe according to your needs (risotto rice expands quite substantially). The roasted mushrooms would serve 4 so adjust the recipe should you be making the full risotto amount for 6, to keep a good ratio of roasted mushrooms versus rice. I added the zest of a lemon just before stirring in the cheese, it lifted the risotto beautifully. Never waste the zest of a fresh citrus! For a halal version, simply replace the wine with more stock.
I have combined the methods of preparing the rice and roasted mushrooms in the order I've cooked them, so that both are done at the same time to serve fresh and warm. Alternatively you can put the wild mushrooms to roast first. When it's done, turn the oven off but keep the door slightly ajar. When the rice is done, remove the still warm roasted mushrooms, dress them and serve together.
For the risotto:
- 1 1/2 to 2 liters hot chicken stock (in this case, I used mushroom stock for a vegetarian version)
- a handful of dried porcini mushrooms
- olive oil
- 2 small onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
- 400 grams risotto rice
- 150 milliliters vermouth/white wine (I used Muscat)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 25 grams butter
- 2 nice handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- zest of 1 lemon
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
For the roasted mushrooms:
- 4 large handfuls of wild mushrooms (shiitake/girolle/chestnut/oyster works well, I used chanterelles), cleaned and if necessary, sliced
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 30 grams butter, cut into small pieces
- juice of 1 lemon (from the zested lemon for the risotto)
- a few sprigs of fresh chervil, tarragon or parsley, leaves picked and chopped
Preheat oven to 450°F with a wire rack placed in the middle. Bring stock to a boil in a saucepan. Meanwhile, toss the wild mushrooms with garlic, oil, salt and several grinds of pepper in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart shallow baking dish. Top with butter and set aside. Once stock comes to a boil, place the porcini mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and pour in just enough hot stock to cover.
Leave for a couple of minutes until they’ve softened. Remove and set aside, reserving the soaking liquid. (I find it unnecessary to chop the porcini as I like bigger bites of mushrooms to make the rice a party.) Keep the rest of the stock on a very low simmer.
In a large pan, heat a glug of olive oil and add the onion and celery. Slowly fry without browning them, on low heat, for at least 10 minutes. Turn the heat up and add the rice. Give it a stir with a wooden spoon. Add in the vermouth/wine of your choice and keep stirring until the liquid has cooked into the rice. Pour in the porcini soaking liquid into the pan. Add the porcini, a good pinch of salt and the first ladle of hot stock.
Turn the heat down to a simmer and keep adding ladlefuls of hot stock, stirring and gently massaging the starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next.
About 10 minutes into this (after the 2 rounds of stock), put the prepared wild mushrooms into the oven and roast till tender, golden and bubbly garlic sauce forms below, this will take about 15 to 20 minutes. While the mushrooms are roasting, carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with just a slight bite. This will take about another 20 minutes, just about the time the roasted mushrooms are done.
Take the risotto off the heat and check the seasoning carefully. Stir in the butter and a little bit of cheese. The risotto should be creamy and oozy in texture, so add a bit more stock or cheese depending on its consistency at this point. Put a lid over the pan and leave the rice to relax for about 3 minutes. During this time, remove the roasted mushrooms from the oven and stir in lemon juice and mixture of herbs.
Dish out the rested risotto into serving plates. Crack over some black pepper, top each plate with some of the dressed roasted mushrooms, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and if desired, a bit more freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.
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